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Obama’s State of the Union a wish list for liberals

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2013

The first State of the Union address of President Obama’s second term is shaping up as a conservative’s nightmare come true.

In his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, Mr. Obama is certain to demand more tax revenue, part of his “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, even though he won a battle with Congress last month for a tax increase on wealthier households. He also will push for more spending to fund his job-creation proposals and education plans.

The nationally televised address will begin at 9 p.m.

(SEE RELATED: Ted Nugent to be a guest at State of the Union address)

“He will focus on the proposals that are necessary to help the middle class grow and help the economy grow,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “We need more investment that helps the key industries of the 21st century take root here in the United States. We are not done, not even close.”

Along with higher taxes and bigger government, Mr. Obama will renew his call for gun-control measures and immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Many Democrats expect the president to call attention again to climate change as part of his clean-energy agenda.

As for Republicans’ goals of cutting spending, curbing the growth of entitlement programs and reducing the size of government? Most observers don’t expect the president to give those subjects more than the briefest of lip service.

“Don’t hold your breath,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow in economic studies at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “Why would he? He’s in great political shape. I don’t think he’s going to do anything serious [on spending]. He has every reason to sit tight and play to his base.”

(SEE RELATED: State of Union response carries risk for Marco Rubio)

The day after delivering his agenda, Mr. Obama will begin a series of trips to sell his initiatives to the public in North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois.

The danger in failing to reach out to Republicans on deficit reduction, some analysts say, is that the Republicans have the power to block Mr. Obama’s top priorities such as immigration reform. If the president takes too combative a posture with Republicans, it will “doom” much of his agenda, said Alice Rivlin, another senior fellow at Brookings who served on Mr. Obama’s debt commission.

“We have a long-run problem, and if he’s seen as not addressing it by much of the country and by the Republican opposition, he will doom his other agenda to bickering,” she said.

Since winning re-election handily Nov. 6, Mr. Obama and his team have been giving every indication that they think they have the Republican Party on the run. They say their hand was strengthened when they won the “fiscal cliff” showdown Jan. 1, pushing through a tax-rate increase on families earning more than $450,000, and when Republican lawmakers temporarily backed away from a threat to block an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit. Many Republicans view the debt ceiling as one of their few remaining options to force Mr. Obama to address spending.

As the president pursues an unabashedly liberal agenda, Democrats are simultaneously trying to exploit a rift in the Republican Party, as evidenced by a memo circulated Monday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on gun control.

“On the eve of a major grass-roots push in favor of gun violence prevention, it’s clear that Tea Party House Republicans will maintain their out-of-touch approach and obstruct sensible reforms to reduce gun violence that most Americans support — undermining their party’s appeal, hurting their candidates and endangering suburban Republican seats,” the memo states.

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he expects Mr. Obama to lay out the broad liberal philosophy that supports his initiatives.

“The redistribution philosophy; the sense that government spending creates wealth, not detracts from it; the sense that the agents of government are smart enough to make a lot of decisions about our daily lives — those core instincts guide the philosophy,” Mr. Franc said. “One of the consequences of the president being a lame duck is that he becomes ‘progressive unplugged.’ So we’re seeing the true Barack Obama right now, and it’s an unapologetic and very proud progressive.”

Although White House aides weren’t tipping the president’s hand, Democrats also are hoping that Mr. Obama expands on his inaugural address with a new push to make it easier to vote, including federal legislation mandating early voting in all 50 states. In his inaugural speech, Mr. Obama said, “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

Mr. Obama will devote much of his speech to the economy, a theme he previewed for House Democrats last week.

“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” Mr. Obama said. “It means that we’re focused on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we’ve got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we’re cultivating the kind of clean-energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future.”

As for deficit reduction and the looming fiscal crisis?

“We’ll talk about that stuff,” Mr. Obama said, “but all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country — a cop, or a teacher, or a construction worker, or a receptionist — that they can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved.”

In other words, deficit reduction will take a back seat to jobs programs and more spending. Although Mr. Carney rejected the notion Monday that the president was again “pivoting” back to the economy, a poll shows Americans are still deeply concerned about the lack of jobs.

The survey by Quinnipiac University found that 53 percent of respondents think the U.S. is still in a recession, even though economists have said the economic downturn ended in July 2009. Given that, Mr. Obama is expected to revive long-standing proposals for more federal spending on infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and education.

The president told House Democrats that he asks himself the same question when evaluating the worthiness of administration proposals: “Is this helping to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules?

“Because I believe that is a growth agenda — not just an equity agenda, not just a fairness agenda — that is a growth agenda. That is when we have grown fastest.”

The first State of the Union address of President Obama's second term is shaping up as a conservative's nightmare come true.

In his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, Mr. Obama is certain to demand more tax revenue, part of his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction, even though he already got a tax increase on wealthier households last month. And he'll push for more spending to fund his latest job-creation proposals and education plans.

The nationally televised address will begin at 9 p.m.

"He will focus on the proposals that are necessary to help the middle class grow and help the economy grow," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "We need more investment that helps the key industries of the 21st Century take root here in the United States. We are not done, not even close."

Along with higher taxes and bigger government, Mr. Obama will renew his call for gun-control measures and immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. And many Democrats expect the president to call attention again to climate change, as part of his clean-energy agenda.

As for Republicans' goals of cutting spending, curbing the growth of entitlement programs and reducing the size of government? Most observers don't expect the president to give those subjects more than the briefest of lip service.

"Don't hold your breath," said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow in economic studies at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. "Why would he? He's in great political shape. I don't think he's going to do anything serious [on spending]. He has every reason to sit tight and play to his base."

The day after delivering his new agenda, Mr. Obama will begin a series of trips to sell his initiatives to the public, in North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois.

The danger in failing to reach out to Republicans on deficit reduction, some analysts say, is that the Republicans have the power to block Mr. Obama's top priorities such as immigration reform. If the president takes too combative a posture with Republicans, it will "doom" much of his agenda, said Alice Rivlin, another senior fellow at Brookings who served on Mr. Obama's debt commission.

"We have a long-run problem, and if he's seen as not addressing it by much of the country and by the Republican opposition, he will doom his other agenda to bickering," she said.

Since winning re-election handily on Nov. 6, Mr. Obama and his team have been giving every indication that they think they have the Republican Party on the run. They say their hand was strengthened when they won the "fiscal cliff" showdown on Jan. 1, pushing through a tax-rate increase on families earning $450,000 or more, and when GOP lawmakers temporarily backed away from a threat to block an increase in the nation's borrowing limit. Many in the Republican Party view the debt ceiling as one of their few remaining options to force Mr. Obama to address spending.

As the president pursues an unabashedly liberal agenda, Democrats are simultaneously trying to exploit a rift in the Republican Party, as evidenced by a memo circulated Monday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on gun control.

"On the eve of a major grassroots push in favor of gun violence prevention, it's clear that Tea Party House Republicans will maintain their out-of-touch approach and obstruct sensible reforms to reduce gun violence that most Americans support — undermining their party's appeal, hurting their candidates and endangering suburban Republican seats," the memo stated.

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he expects Mr. Obama to lay out the broad liberal philosophy that supports his initiatives.

"The redistribution philosophy; the sense that government spending creates wealth, not detracts from it; the sense that the agents of government are smart enough to make a lot of decisions about our daily lives — those core instincts guide the philosophy," Mr. Franc said. "One of the consequences of the president being a lame duck is that he becomes 'progressive unplugged.' So we're seeing the true Barack Obama right now, and it's an unapologetic and very proud progressive."

Mr. Obama will devote much of his speech to the economy, a theme he previewed for House Democrats last week.

"I'm going to be talking about making sure that we're focused on job creation here in the United States of America," Mr. Obama said. "It means that we're focused on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we've got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we're cultivating the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future."

As for deficit reduction and the looming fiscal crisis?

"We'll talk about that stuff," said Mr. Obama, "but all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country — a cop, or a teacher, or a construction worker, or a receptionist — that they can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved."

In other words, deficit reduction will take a back seat to jobs programs and more spending. Although Mr. Carney rejected the notion Monday that the president was again "pivoting" back to the economy, a new poll showed Americans are still deeply concerned about the lack of jobs.

The survey by Quinnipiac University found that 53 percent of respondents believe the U.S. is still in a recession, even though economists have said the economic downturn ended in July 2009. Given that, Mr. Obama is expected to revive long-standing proposals for more federal spending on infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and education.

The president told House Democrats he asks himself the same question when evaluating the worthiness of administration proposals: "Is this helping to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules?"

"Because I believe that is a growth agenda — not just an equity agenda, not just a fairness agenda — that is a growth agenda," Mr. Obama said. "That is when we have grown fastest."

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